Supriya and Raj from Mumbai are both engineers and they are unschooling their daughters Malvika (14) and Radha (12). Their story is particularly interesting because the duo come from a family of professionals in various fields. While the couple decided to unschool their daughters; the family members raised a concern of potential risk in choosing a path that was not proven. This big ‘NO’ from other family members was because Malvika and Radha where already recognized as brilliant students in the school they were then attending. At the Swashikshan launch Supriya shared her journey of what it took them to un-school the two girls. Presented below is the transcript of her talk.
On this sweet morning, I take pleasure in sharing a few challenges and successes along our unschooling journey.
We enrolled our children in school just like other children. We could not think of any other option; though we really did not want to burden them. While our daughter was interviewed for admission to the nursery class, unlike the other children of her age she did not know the colours, animals or nursery rhymes. In fact she was not even able to tell her name when asked. It was because we never really insisted on teaching her that!
Those days I used to sing poems to her. Radha would enjoy repeating the lines after me. That was her style of learning I guess. So when the principal asked her lovingly, “What is your name?” she looked at the school principal and plainly imitated, “What is your name?”
Both the daughters, though they attended the schools, were free from any compulsion on homework or studies. And the results were predictable. Each year their progress book stated the similar remarks – ‘The child is intelligent but needs parent’s involvement for a better performance’. I was even called and fired by the teacher for I could not ensure that the girls do their homework daily. And the height of all bombarding was when I was called to the school to learn that my child was dyslexic!
We knew what we were doing. In the year 2008 we performed their maujibandhan – a ritual for beginning a formal study. Malvika was in fourth standard and Radha was in third standard. We explained the girls that they must then start learning from books.
Hard to believe that the year Malvika started learning numbers and language with discipline she earned a rank and a state scholarship. In the middle school years girls earned a number of laurels for the school and for the family. Last year when Radha left the school to opt for unschooling she was felicitated as the outstanding student in the school.
Now coming to the challenges in unschooling.
I come from a family where all are very highly qualified. My husband Raj strongly opposed to take an uncalculated risk over an already chosen safe and smooth path. Though the girls had tasted competitive success and knew what special recognition meant, they also seem to think that the path had no more challenges left and hence it was not an interesting option anymore.
My elder daughter shared, “Once I become a great mathematician where will we have time to pursue our hobbies? But if every day we do just what we enjoy we can still work part time and earn some money for it!”
The younger daughter added, “If I have to do boring things to buy things like cars or big houses it is better that I try to live without those things.”
But the best philosophy I learnt from them is worth sharing – They never wanted to sit in a special AC cabin. They thought that it was a bad idea as you work alone there. Whether it is a success or a failure they wanted to work with common people – a team! ‘Like a band’ they said. Just as some college friends come together and make a music band. Together they do everything – they either succeed or they fail but they work together on it forever.
So our second phase of unschooling began – Girls left the school and we donated all their textbooks.
I think children learn English as they read. Children learn math while shopping, budgeting and banking. All concepts in science, history, math or geography are part of our daily life if you look at it carefully.
Malvika and Radha love what they learn, and learn what they love. So they learn like hungry and greedy persons. Naturally they learn quite early and easily as compared to other children.
Malvika is now 14. She likes computer programming. There was nobody to teach her that subject. She struggled a lot but did not give up. Today Malvika uses object oriented Java and c++ for programming. She also learnt a bit about hardware and networking and can easily troubleshoot our day to day system problems.
Radha likes photography. We bought her a camera and her unschooling journey started. She already worked as an official photographer of a gymnastics camp. She also casually participated in a contest and earned the first prize for her photograph. At the age of 12 the girl earned a 2 nights 3 days stay at seven star Hotel Trident in Agra!
We made it compulsory for them to choose any one sport just for the physical fitness. So Malvika selected windsurfing. Though we did not have proper facilities to coach we did not force her to select another sport. Learning is where passion is. Malvika earned second position in National Championship this year. While she left her school did anybody imagine that the scholar in the school can also be a sports genius one day?
Radha chose rock-climbing as a sport. Who knows Radha might ascend Mt Everest one day! And while everyone will be eager to hear what she has to says, no one will bother to know whether Radha has completed her graduation or not!
I think that gives answers to all the questions. Children are capable of climbing the Everest in their unique area of interest. We as parents should not make them stand on the plateau because everybody else is doing so. For it is the plateau where you will see the crowd but on the top there is always only one flag.